Alexandra London-Thompson grew up at the Chilmark Community Center, spending summers as both a camper and a counselor, from the time she was four into her early 20s. 

This summer she is going back to camp, as the executive director. And she’s bringing her son Jasper with her.

Jasper, called Unicorn by his friends at the CCC, is seven years old, but he began at the camp at the same age his mother did, with the four-year-old age group.

Owen Ditchfield enjoys a moment on the swing. — Maria Thibodeau

“What really interested me about coming back was getting to bring my entire wealth of experience of the CCC to the position,” Ms. London-Thompson said. “I was a camper, I worked many different jobs here, and then most recently as a parent.”

The camp has been a mainstay of summer life in Chilmark for over 60 years. Most of this summer’s nearly 60 counselors were also campers. But Chilmark resident Wally Epstein remembers back to a time when even referring to the summer programs as a “camp” was a contentious issue. Many feared such a label would diminish the casual spirit on which it was founded.

“As with any good thing that goes on in Chilmark there is always a lot of discussion,” Mr. Epstein said, recalling countless conversations between the CCC board and community members. He served on the board for 25 years.

New director Alexandra London-Thompson was also a camper. — Maria Thibodeau

One of those debates centered around Mr. Epstein’s idea for a community swimming pool to be used by CCC campers. The thought came to him after the passing of Islander Alex Langmuir who frequently offered his own pool to the children.

“They would drive there in a community center van which was always a bit of a production,” Mr. Epstein said.

The swimming pool idea never came to fruition, but the spontaneity of similar summer activities remained.

Island sculptor Jay Lagemann echoed Mr. Epstein’s sentiments. He and his older brother, Kord, were the first to run the concessions stand back in the mid 1950s.

Mira Davis, Maeve Shean, Malia Bodner and Asya Samad in the Art Shack. — Maria Thibodeau

“It just wasn’t structured back when I was there,” Mr. Lagemann said. He reminisced about selling Coca Cola’s for a dime, baking chocolate chip cookies, running barefoot with friends, and the butterflies of a summer romance.

“It was the first place that I ever danced closely with a girl,” Mr. Lagemann said with a laugh.

Ms. London-Thompson said that while in recent years more structure has been introduced for scheduling purposes, independence for the campers is still the priority.

“The kids really get to choose their own adventures,” Ms. London-Thompson said. “They get to be kids.

Abby Karlinsky and Hailey Mayhew. — Maria Thibodeau

Those kids still enjoy chocolate chip cookies, sing and dance with the drama department, and kick off their shoes to run through the grass. It’s the physical changes of the space over the years that come to Mr. Epstein’s mind, such as the expansion of the community center building, the art shack renovation, and the construction of five new tennis courts—three clay, two hardtop.

“Elise Elliston designed the new art shack, but kept the tradition of the spot it was in while capturing its spirit,” Mr. Epstein said. During construction in 2011, Ms. Elliston worked to preserve historical mementos of the building, like the signatures from some former campers painted onto the walls.

“Every time I come back here it’s like time has stood still,” said Lauren Hirshfield-Belden, a summer resident and former camper-counselor. She was joined at the CCC by her daughter Olivia who has spent many summers as a camper.

“I really do feel like there’s a magic to this place,” she said.

More photos from the Chilmark Community Center Camp.